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Evening entertainment | Why US Open is adding new night schedule

  • Revamped 14,000-capacity Louis Armstrong Stadium to open this summer
  • US Open's second arena to have separate night session for the first time
  • Tennis major planning celebrations for its 50th anniversary

The US Open has double reason to celebrate this year. The grand slam is marking its 50th anniversary with the opening of the new 14,000-capacity Louis Armstrong Stadium, complete with retractable roof. The rebuilding of Flushing Meadows' second arena completes a five-year $600 million-plus modernization project, which includes a new 8,000-seat Grandstand stadium and 10 rebuilt outside courts.

It also means that the US Open will be the second slam to have multiple stadiums with retractable roofs, following the renovation of the Arthur Ashe Stadium in 2016. The Australian Open has three: over the Rod Laver Arena, Hisense Arena and Margaret Court Arena; Wimbledon's No1 Court will get its roof in 2019 (alongside Centre Court) while renovations at the French Open's Philippe Chatrier court have been put back until 2020.

With a new roof comes new scheduling: both the Arthur Ashe and Louis Armstrong stadiums will have separate night sessions for the first time this year. And with the US Open's 50th anniversary comes a series of celebrations of its illustrious history. Ahead of the tournament, the United States Tennis Association recently launched a new advertising campaign, with a video narrated by actor Alec Baldwin, as well as a new logo. The tournament will also use a 25-second service clock, a first for a tennis grand slam.

Katrina Adams, the president of the United States Tennis Association, spoke to SportBusiness International at the MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference to discuss the business and commercial opportunities of the redeveloped Louis Armstrong Stadium and the new night tennis schedule.

Q What was the decision-making process behind the redevelopment of the Louis Armstrong Stadium?
A
That stadium dates back to the Singer Bowl and the World Fair [in 1964] and it was converted into a tennis stadium. The original Louis Armstrong was connected to the Grandstand and then, of course, when we built Arthur Ashe we cut Louis off. We've been putting band aids on that stadium for a couple of decades now and basically it was out of date and needed to be rebuilt. So we went to our designers and came up with what we are doing now. It appears to be an indoor-looking building but is outdoors. It will have a retractable roof and will be a 14,000-seat, state-of-the-art facility. We're really excited about it. Once you put a roof on your main stadium you understand the importance of it and realise that we need to catch up with everyone else. The Australian Open has three roofs, Wimbledon is building its second roof so we will have our second before then. We want to make sure we keep our tournament on pace and on time, particularly later in the event. 

Q What were the effects of having a temporary 8,500-seater second stadium at last year's US Open?
A
It was really intimate – people gravitated to it. It was full on a daily basis, so we had to be very creative in coming up with that second court because we needed it for our schedule of play for the second week. The players who were out there liked playing on the temporary stadium but I think they are going to enjoy playing on the main [second] stadium that much better.

Q What are the reasons for having a separate night schedule on Louis Armstrong?
A
It's our decision. We're New York, we're a night-time event, people are working. The atmosphere at night in New York is amazing so when we approached it with our partners they were really excited about it. If you look at Louis Armstrong we were going well into the night any way but now we can have two structured sessions for the fans and the players alike – they will know when they are going to start and it will be able to bounce around on our [TV] networks as well. At the end of the day you want to make sure you have the best matches on for the viewers at home to watch. 

Q What are the business opportunities that come with the new second stadium?
A
The lower bowl is still ticketed seating, as in the past. There will be 7,000 in the lower bowl so a few more will be sold there. As for amenities, the Louis Armstrong Stadium will have an unbelievable Ralph Lauren Polo store, Wilson will be there. It's a lot of extra space and it's modern. When people come in it will have a wow effect.

Q What is the exact cost of the redevelopment – and how is it being paid for?
A
The transformation of the entire facility is $600million plus. It's a loan. We have a financial partners, it's in bonds and we are already paying it back.

Q What will the US Open be doing for its 50th anniversary celebrations – and how will you look to monetize it?
A
There are going to be a lot of activities and festivities around the grounds. We're really looking to have more of a festival experience for the fans and our participants who are coming. Our average fans spend around eight hours at the facility but spend only half of that watching tennis – they are out engaging, people-watching, eating… There will be a lot of activations and innovations [around the anniversary]. We'll probably have a special event, activity or show on a daily basis this year. We think we do a great job on merchandising on an annual basis but with the 50th anniversary that's a different theme. Last year was the 20th anniversary of Arthur Ashe so we've been lucky that we've had something we can celebrate every year.

Q Finally, looking back last year, how did you capitalize on having four US women in the semi-finals?
A
We had five Americans in the quarter-finals so we knew it was a possibility, it wasn't something that happened over night. You are already planning ahead. 
It was great for us, it was great for ESPN to do some vignettes and major stories on each individual player so you got to know them that much better, so when they walked on to the court you felt like you knew them when you were watching them.

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